Thanksgiving Volunteer Options in NYC for Kids and Families

FeedingNYC's mission is to feed 8,000 families in New York this Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of FeedingNYC
FeedingNYC's mission is to feed 8,000 families in New York this Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of FeedingNYC

Every year as we head into the holidays, readers ask about ways to volunteer with their children in New York City. Surprisingly, finding ways to give back with kids isn't always as easy as you'd think. Many charitable organizations have age minimums for their projects, and family-friendly volunteering opportunities often book up weeks in advance. (Which, of course, is a good sign—better to have too many people interested in volunteering than not enough.)

With Thanksgiving approaching, we wanted to highlight some great ways NYC kids and their parents can give back to those in need. We're including opportunities for children of all ages so everyone can participate. While kids might not be able to work in a soup kitchen, they can help the homeless, hungry, and elderly in other meaningful ways.

Read on for a list of family-friendly ways to put the "giving" in your Thanksgiving, and beyond.

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Many of these volunteering slots are open year-round (it's not only the holidays that find families in need). So if one of your favorite volunteering options isn't available on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, consider signing up on a random weekend or two during the year.

The 2021 Thousand Turkey Challenge – Upper West Side

Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew
Donate to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), which provides Thanksgiving staples to local low-income families. More than 5,000 families received turkeys and other seasonal foods at the church's emergency pantry last year. The cost to donate one turkey is just $27. You can donate online via the website. Volunteering opportunities for kids ages 14 and up include helping in the pantry, the clothing closet, kitchen, or mobile market. Children under 14 can volunteer when accompanied by an adult.

The Race to Deliver – Central Park

Sunday, November 21
This fundraiser for God's Love We Deliver is fun for the family, with a four-mile adult run/walk in Central Park followed by a variety of activities. This year, the in-person run/walk returns after a 2020 virtual event, and registration is available online. This can be a great activity for kids to cheer on a family member, too.

RELATED: Volunteer With Mott Haven Fridge to Deliver Free Food to Needy Neighbors

Boy poses with holiday meals while volunteering
Kids can pack meals and make holiday cards for FeedingNYC. Photo by Jonathan Wolff for FeedingNYC

FeedingNYC 2021 – Chelsea

Tuesday, November 23
Since 2001, this grassroots organization has delivered more than 90,000 complete Thanksgiving meals to New York City families in shelters. It officially marks 20 years of service with this year's event. Masks and proof of vaccination are required for all volunteers. Register online to build meal boxes. Your $35 donation allows the org to feed an entire family its Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving Morning Meal Delivery – Citywide

Thursday, November 25
God's Love We Deliver prepares and delivers nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses. Volunteers can sign up to help prepare and deliver meals in locations around the city. While this project takes place on Thanksgiving morning, families should have plenty of time for their own festivities. Volunteer drivers must have a driver's license and their own car, and register in advance. Kids are welcome to participate. Their presence cheers up any delivery. There is a cap to the number of volunteers they can accept, and certain neighborhoods fill up fast, so register now if you want to help. Some destinations already have waitlists. Please note: All volunteers over the age of 12 must be fully vaccinated and bring their proof of vaccination.

Gobble Gobble Give NYC – Harlem

Thursday, November 25
This volunteer organization traditionally provides hot meals to those in need, but in light of the pandemic, it hosts a Thanksgiving Day toy drive in 2021. Register to drop off donations of unwrapped toys and children's books online. A small, vaccinated team will be outside the locations accepting donations. Toys will go to children in group homes, shelters, and public housing. Other items accepted include canned and packaged foods, toiletries, baby items, new clothing, new or gently used blankets, and pandemic supplies.

More Holiday Volunteer Options

CAMBA – Brooklyn

There are many ways to support CAMBA by donating and volunteering this holiday season. The nonprofit provides clothing and more to NYC's neediest and says the need never lets up. The organization offers services and housing to the homeless, too.

Citymeals on Wheels – Citywide

This charity provides local homebound individuals with hot, prepared meals. Children, accompanied by adults, can help to deliver meals. Children can also get involved by making holiday cards to be distributed to seniors with the meals.

Dorot's Card-Making Program – Citywide

Community-based organization Dorot has plenty of family-friendly volunteer opportunities to ease the stress homebound seniors face. Its card-making program is easy for even young volunteers. Families are asked to create birthday, holiday, or caring cards, and mail them to Dorot. The organization then mails your crafty creations to homebound seniors to brighten their holiday.

Encore Meals on Wheels – Midtown West

Help Catholic Charities of New York deliver meals to seniors in the Midtown Manhattan area. Families with children of all ages are welcome to sign up and volunteer in many ways. Bring the gift of a delicious and nutritious meal, and provide homebound seniors with some company and smiles. Sign up via the form on its website to get started.

Food Bank's Supper Klub for Kids – Harlem

Weekdays, 3pm-5pm
This is the city's first community kitchen run by kids and for kids, providing the littlest New Yorkers a chance to impact their neighbors in need. The Supper Klub is meant to be a safe and stigma-free space where kids can build a community with peers around good food, great fun, and awesome service. This after-school meal service provides hot food to children and families on weekdays from 3:30pm-4:30pm. Teens, ages 13-19, help run the dining room, clean the tables, serve food, and sit down alongside other diners for a hot meal.

Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry – Citywide

Sign up to host a Friendsgiving celebration for No Kid Hungry. It's an easy way for you and your community to come together and give back to kids in need. For every $100 you raise, you'll feed a child up to 1,000 meals.

Masbia Soup Kitchen Network – Brooklyn and Queens

Daily, Sunday-Thursday
Various locations, see website for details.
Masbia operates soup kitchens in Flatbush and Borough Park, Brooklyn, as well as Rego Park in Queens, and welcomes the help of volunteers 12 and older (children ages 12-18 must be accompanied by an adult) to serve hot meals to all who enter. Volunteers are welcome for on-site work, such as playing host in the restaurant-style dining rooms, bussing tables, washing dishes, prepping meals, and working in the kitchen. Volunteers are also needed to distribute flyers to individuals who might need Masbia's services.

New York Cares Coat Drive – Citywide

This is another great opportunity for young children, who might ask why the Statue of Liberty is seen huddled and shivering in the snow on ads at this time of year. New York Cares' annual coat drive provides homeless and low-income families with something warm to wear. Donate gently used coats of all sizes or even start your own drive in your building or school. Collection sites are located around the city in transportation hubs, police stations, and participating stores. Check the New York Cares website for a complete list of drop-off locations.

New York Common Food Pantry 2021 Thanksgiving Food Drive – Citywide

The New York Common Food Pantry has served more than 11 million meals across NYC since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider organizing a food drive on its behalf at your home, work, or school to help the pantry collect food to distribute to low-income New York families. Nonperishable items such as canned cranberry sauce, rice, gravy, stuffing mix, cake mix, pasta, and canned beans are best. No glass jars, please. The food drive runs from October through Friday, November 12. NYCP also hosts a toy drive, from Friday, November 26 through Tuesday, December 7.

Remember, too, that many charities accept Halloween candy to include in gift baskets or send to troops overseas.

To find additional kid-friendly ways to give back to the New York City community, subscribe to the FREE Doing Good Together/NY newsletter, a monthly roundup of local volunteer opportunities appropriate for families. And don't forget to check New York Cares' list of family-friendly volunteer opportunities as well.

A version of this story was published in 2017; it is updated annually. Katie Nave Freeman and Drew Kristofik contributed additional reporting.

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